Anna Sabin charts the progress of two prospective Community Orchards for Hastings.

The proposal to plant up to 20 fruits trees on the westernmost of the West Hill lawns and up to 39 trees on the lower half of Bembrook Open Space is not without controversy. The views of local residents so far seems very positive – with an exception which I’ll come on to in a moment! With the trees 8 to 10 meters apart, this should form open, widely planted orchards with room for grass and flowers between them and be a wonderful community resource.

The idea grew after the Wild About Hastings group observed that there is not much forage for early spring pollinators in Hastings and that fruit tree blossom would make a welcome improvement. 

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund, run by the Forestry Commission, offers grants for semi-mature trees in exchange for an equal value of labour and nurturing from local volunteers. The fund is generous enough for three to four year old trees which will be able to stand their ground in the face of any possible unthinking urban assaults.
The fund offers either more than 600 trees or between 10 and 71. We went for 71.

Hastings Borough Council heroically agreed to lend us the money to buy the trees and gave us licences to plant on three separate sites, chosen for being steepish grassy slopes not used for much other than walking and mowing. 

The first 12 trees were planted in spring this year at Hollington Bowl by the Surviving the Street people. They’ve called it the Woody Wood Orchard – inspired by working in the ‘Woody Wood’, just down the hill from the orchard to be. They’ve turned a rubbish-strewn tangled area into a beautiful place full of spring flowers with accessible paths. They have also transformed the nearby old closed Optivo Rocket park into a vegetable garden. Local families, children and core volunteers are loving the new lease of life – the Easter Egg Hunt in the orchard and the Jubilee event in the Rocket Park were humming.

The West Hill and Bembrook trees will be planted and watered by the New Eden Gardens group, brought together by Jody Lee. They had been looking for some land to practice community permaculture which fits in with the Orchard concept.   

We will spend the rest of this month gathering survey responses, adapting the planting scheme according to local wishes, ordering the resulting tree requirements and planning to plant at the end of November this year. There may be a meeting before planting and a date for that will be publicised and put on the Hastings Community Trees Facebook page. The planting itself will be done by hand with spades. The trees will be bare root and three metres tall, which is big but easily handled by two people.

I did speak to one man who said he was all for trees but absolutely not fruit trees because the fruit would just be nicked by children. Nothing I could say would bring him round to the idea that children helping themselves to fruit would be a good thing – not even when I said it was a big part of the motivation to plant the trees in the first place. If we do go ahead, I do hope that gentleman will not be too outraged by people, young and old, helping themselves!

For more information and details of the survey see Hastings Community Trees Facebook page.

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